Saturday, 31 March 2012

Exeter University Gilbert and Sullivan Society present 'Patience' at Exeter Northcott Theatre - Performances Tuesday 6 to Saturday 10 March - Soprano Rebekah Brown, Tenor Jonathan Wood, and Baritone Andrew Henley. Baritone Charles Hughes, Director, conducts the orchestra

Baritone Charles Hughes
conducts the orchestra in the pit at the Northcott Theatre
In 2004, The University of Exeter suffered a double loss. The Vice Chancellor, Sr Steven Smith, following a ballot of members, agreed to the closure of the Chemistry and Music Departments at the University.

Although chemistry is no longer on the curriculum, there is still a great deal of extra-curricular music at the University - the students have their own orchestra, choral society, brass bands, drum bands - and a very active 'Gilber and Sullivan Society' which stages a major production every year in the Northcott Theatre.

In 2006, just 13 months after the closure of the Music Department, the 'Director of Music's Office' was set up to coordinate all this wonderful music making. Knightley, Clayden, Elmbrook Cottage and Kay house Duryard are now all used for rehearsals and musical events. Who is the Director of Music - Marion Wood!

In 2010 a new problem became apparent. The Northcott Theatre, which had served Exeter since 1962 when the Theatre Royal was closed, was itself found to be insolvent and was placed in administration. Fortunately, only four months later the 'Exeter Northcott Theatre Company' was set up through the work of Exeter City Council and Exeter University. The theatre was bought and continues to put on productions.
A full orchestra in such a small space - and playing so beautifully!
(Percussion: Ali Board, far left - Lead Violin: Chris Parker, near right
with Exeter University Symphony Orchestra President Beca Pennar)
And the productions at the Northcott Theatre continue to amaze and delight.

The students continue to perform there. (Exeter University Theatre Company performed 'Arturo Ui' at the end of February.) At the beginning of this month (6 - 10 March) the Exeter University Gilbert and Sullivan Society put on their production of 'Patience' (Gilbert & Sullivan 1881).

Baritone Andrew Henley is the poet Grosvenor
All the girls swoon at his eloquence
Patience is the story of a young dairy-maid - called Patience, of course - who is subjected to the amorous advances of two foppish poets, Bunthorne and Grosvenor. The two poets, despite being pursued by devoted female fans wherever they go, both lose their heads when confronted with the challenge of trying to win the affection of the more discerning Patience.

But he gets nowhere with Patience (Rebekah Brown)
- She's far too sensible! 
Rebekah Brown is outstanding as Patience - so determined to be unselfish that she won't consider marrying a man who loves her. (Sounds unworkable, I know.) Our two heros, of course, fall over themselves trying to find a way round this dilemma.

Jonathan Wood appears first as Bunthorne. He is perfect for the part - unworldly, conceited and hilariously arch. Andrew Henley, when he appears as Grosvenor, is something else again. Outrageously vain, he can't imagine any woman not finding him attractive. Patience throws them both into confusion, with her insistence on 'pure' love.

At the final curtain call Patience (Rebekah Brown) is presented by her two suitors:
Bunthorne (Jonathan Wood) and Grosvenor (Andrew Henley)
It's hard to imagine how the situation could possibly resolve itself - but it does! A fascinating story, very cleverly performed by  a wonderful cast. The soldiers, who have been abandoned in favour of the more fashionable poets, are endlessly amusing in their efforts to appear manly. The entourage of girls, although mainly occupied with swooning in admiration of our poets, also have some serious arias too. (Alice Massey is very moving as 'Lady Jane'.)

The singing and acting were brilliant throughout - bringing out the very best in the writing. A wonderful performance.

- and Rebekah acknowledges their invisible accompanists: Charles Hughes' orchestra
And the singing was perfectly accompanied by a small orchestra in the 'pit' underneath the stage. Charles Hughes conducted an impressive collection of horns, clarinets, flutes, bassoons and string instruments. Chris Parker was the leader and Exeter University Symphony Orchestra President Beca Pennar was also playing violin. Percussionist Ali Board, of the Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra, was also there, to play tympani - and triangle! A glorious combination of sounds, from the overture to the epilogue.

Well done everyone.

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